Syrian job seeker advised to change name

By Alanah Eriksen, Mohamed Hassan

Mr McMillan said the applicant should consider changing his name to something more Kiwi. Photo / Thinkstock
Mr McMillan said the applicant should consider changing his name to something more Kiwi. Photo / Thinkstock

A Syrian job applicant was told he should change his name to something more Kiwi because conservative southerners would think twice about working with him.

The Syrian, a 22-year-old Auckland-based man with a civil engineering degree, was applying for a graduate position within architectural business GM Designs of Invercargill.

He spoke to the Herald on condition that his name was not disclosed.

During an email exchange seen by the Herald, company boss Graeme McMillan asked for a photograph, his country of origin and how long he had lived here. When the applicant asked why, Mr McMillan said: "Unfortunately any southern NZer client ... would possibly think twice about dealing with anyone with a Middle Eastern name."

He said the applicant should consider changing his name to "break down such a disadvantage".

"I offered the placement to an Irish engineer due to his cultural similarity to that of NZers and their acceptance by most Southerners, as the province was originally settled by Irish and Scottish 120 years ago."

When contacted by the Herald yesterday, Mr McMillan said: "All Chinese that we get take on an English name that you can pronounce. When you can't pronounce their name, it's very difficult."

He said southern New Zealand was "very conservative ... not like Auckland". He added that the man did not have the right qualifications.

"He applied for a job he wasn't confident to get ... He's trying to make a big thing about who he was and what he was and why I wasn't giving him an appointment.

"At least I went back to him and said something. Usually, employers don't say anything. This gentleman's looking for a problem rather than being realistic," Mr McMillan said.

The applicant, who has since got another job in engineering, said: "He's employing someone to do a job and it's about whether he can do that job - not where he's from."

The Human Rights Act 1993 states that a qualified job applicant cannot be refused because of race or colour or religious or ethical beliefs.

Graeme McMillan's email to Syrian applicant, abridged and edited:

"Any employer wants to understand your background ... including manners and cultural acceptance irrespective of any academic credentials.

"Unfortunately any southern NZer client ... would possibly think twice about dealing with anyone with a Middle Eastern name. You may even take a Kiwi name to break down such a disadvantage ... it is a major drawback. I offered the placement to an Irish engineer due to his cultural similarity and acceptance by most Southerners."

- NZ Herald

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